NASW Foundation National Programs
NASW Social Work Pioneers®
Helen Cassidy (1918 - 1994)
Helen Cassidy was a native of New Orleans. She earned an AB from Loyola University and an MSW from the Tulane School of Social Work. She also completed advanced study at Washington University in St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Prepared in the specialization of medical social work during World War II, Cassidy first served as a field director for the American National Red Cross, and later became administrator for all of the agency's social service programs. She returned to Tulane School of Social Work as a faculty member, and developed a model of field instruction that was widely adopted by other schools. Cassidy was also noted for her administration of the School's grants from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, U.S. Public Health Service, which provided for field instruction in both clinical and public health settings. This instruction included the conducting of workshops with nationwide participation on such topics as the growth and development of children and social group work in health settings.
A year of study in the United Kingdom under a Fulbright scholarship introduced her to a variety of approaches to health care delivery. From 1951-1962, she was sent to Spain by the United Nations as an expert in social casework. Cassidy was also a leader in the American Association of Medical Social Workers before the founding of NASW.
Cassidy, the first female president of NASW, assumed this role earlier than expected; in May 1966, while serving as vice president, she was called upon to finish the term of Harold Gustafson, who died while in office. Because the 1960s were the era of the Civil Rights Movement and its derivative, the Women's Rights Movement, this was a propitious time for leadership by a woman.
Cassidy was well prepared with both the knowledge and breadth of vision to deal with the issues facing the profession of social work at this time. As a professor and coordinator of field instruction at the Tulane University School of Social Work, she had received national and international recognition in the area of social work specialization in health care settings.